Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Omnishambles Update 12

Lets kick this off with yet another thoughtful blog post from someone who feels that 'outsourcing' or privatisation as I prefer to call it, is not the best way of doing things, and certainly not the best way of achieving cost savings or improved services. 

Writing in the Huffington Post, independent strategic adviser John Tizard says quite clearly that it's time for the tide to ebb in terms of more public sector outsourcing:-    

Whilst acknowledging that there are clear differences between and within Whitehall departments and between local authorities or NHS trusts, in truth the narrative and justification for involving the business sector in public service delivery has never been consistent. I recall arguments such as the need to: increase capacity; reduce costs; leverage investment; address underperformance; source scarce expertise; transfer risk (although actually, ultimate risk is hardly ever transferable); tackle poor industrial relations (and sometimes to take on the trade unions); and in some specific cases, extending choice to service users. Sometimes it has been for ideological reasons.
The reality, however, is that evidence that outsourcing to the business sector is better (or worse) than retaining services within the public sector is often hard to prove, for it's practically difficult to compare with an untested alternative. That said, what evidence does exist suggests at best a very mixed picture and nothing like as glowing a success as some marketing presentations or political promotions might suggest. Some early examples of success are not repeatable. Times and conditions have changed
It is a fact that early outsourcing initiatives often led to significant savings (either through productivity improvements or deep cost cutting) with variable quality service provision - but increasingly and unsurprisingly, the public sector has become more efficient and able to itself improve and reform. It's also easier to measure benefits in services such as 'back office' support than it is in services with more complex services with complex outcomes. And whilst there are some examples of outsourcing of such complex services which have been to be successful many have not. The contemporary public sector leader would be well advised to also consider alternative models of service delivery and not simply to pursue outsourcing as the natural and inevitable model.
He goes on to explain in some detail that things have moved on and the outsourcing argument is now just so 'last year' as a concept, thus only leaving ideology as covert justification. 
Meanwhile, despite the denials, there's clear evidence that Chris Grayling is still intent on pursuing the privatisation of the courts service. There's been a suspicion for some time that he's been trying to charm the judiciary round to his way of thinking, and astonishingly he seems to be succeeding as Joshua Rozenberg writing in the Guardian discovered from a document leaked last month:-    
The very idea that private companies should be allowed to invest in the courts of England and Wales is extraordinary enough. But what is so breathtaking about the judicial response leaked to the Guardian and reported here by Owen Bowcott is that, subject to important safeguards, the judges would be willing to go along with it.
First news that something was afoot came in a deliberately low-key statement to parliament on 26 March from the justice secretary and lord chancellor, Chris Grayling. Explaining that it was necessary to raise revenue and increase investment in the courts, Grayling said he had asked his officials "to consider appropriate vehicles to achieve these aims".
Since running costs are clearly no object when there is money to be made, Ministry of Justice officials chose the Rolls Royce of managements consultants and lawyers, McKinsey & Company and Slaughter and May. We can take it that McKinsey are advising the government on structures and Slaughters are advising on raising capital.
The paper leaked to the Guardian represents the judges' view of how the courts administration service might be restructured. It was signed by Lord Justice Gross, the senior presiding judge, on 8 May.
In it, the judges frankly accept the "weakness of the present arrangements" for running the courts. This is the currently the responsibility of a body called HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), an agency of the Ministry of Justice created two years ago. Uniquely, HMCTS operates as a partnership between the lord chancellor, who is a government minister, and two serving judges, the lord chief justice and the senior president of tribunals.
HMCTS is responsible for administering all the criminal, civil and family courts and tribunals in England and Wales. It has a budget of £1.7bn but recovers only £585m in fees. You can see why the government sees room for improvement.
From the judges' point of view, the problem with HMCTS is that it is a servant with two masters: the government and the judiciary. HMCTS is unable to raise capital and does not enjoy security of funding from a lord chancellor who has many other responsibilities.
So the judges believe that HMCTS is "not an attractive option for the long term — and likely to become increasingly unattractive as Treasury cut-backs and other fiscal constraints have increasing effect".
That is why the judges are willing to support a successor body, which they refer to as "New CTS". As envisaged by the judges, New CTS would be free to attract private-sector capital investment and raise revenue.
It's quite astonishing, but as evidenced by a recent letter to all judges from Chris Grayling and the top judges, they've been thoroughly seduced into the concept that a public corporation could raise money and do things better, but that it definitely wouldn't be privatisation.
I've written quite a bit about G4S recently, but we must try and be balanced so I'm grateful to a reader for pointing me in the direction of this recent article in the Guardian about Serco. I've always felt they were particularly scary having started out out as a branch of the Radio Corporation of America who basically built and operated the UK/USA Distant Early Warning System watching for Russian Ballistic Missiles during the Cold War.
Having changed their name and morphed into Serco, as the article makes clear, there isn't an area of operation that they regard as off limits as they effectively develop into a scary 'shadow state'. Effectively we know nothing about companies like this because all requests for information either to them or government are always refused on the grounds of 'commercial sensitivity' and of course they are protected from the irritation of the Freedom of Information Act.
What this company now runs is truly staggering, they're moving into health and their reach is global:-
But the basic facts are plain enough. As well as five British prisons and the tags attached to over 8,000 English and Welsh offenders, Sercosees to two immigration removal centres, at Colnbrook near Heathrow, and Yarl's Wood in Bedfordshire. You'll also see its logo on the Docklands Light Railway and Woolwich ferry, and is a partner in both Liverpool's Merseyrail network, and the Northern Rail franchise, which sees to trains that run in a huge area between the North Midlands and English-Scottish border.
Serco runs school inspections in parts of England, speed cameras all over the UK, and the National Nuclear Laboratory, based at the Sellafield site in Cumbria. It also holds the contracts for the management of the UK's ballistic missile early warning system on the Yorkshire moors, the running of the Manchester Aquatics Centre, and London's "Boris bikes".
But even this is only a fraction of the story. Among their scores of roles across the planet, Serco is responsible for air traffic control in the United Arab Emirates, parking-meter services in Chicago, driving tests in Ontario, and an immigration detention centre on Christmas Island, run on behalf of those well-known friends of overseas visitors the Australian government.
In the US, the company has just been awarded a controversial $1.25bn contract by that country's Department of Health. All told, its operations suggest some real-life version of the fantastical mega-corporations that have long been invented by fiction writers; a more benign version of theTyrell Corporation from Blade Runner, say, or one of those creations from James Bond movies whose name always seems to end with the word "industries".
Until I read this, I hadn't thought of the obvious reference to the Tyrell Corporation and my other favourite film 'Bladerunner'. To be honest, learning that the guy in charge is an evangelical Christian doesn't make feel any too easier about things either.
Finally, news reaches me that the senior management team at London Probation Trust are getting very upset with Napo's campaign leaflets appearing in waiting rooms and other 'offender areas' and ordered their immediate removal.   


  1. Serco and G4S between them are indeed taking over the world. It's worth a mention that as well as the vast amounts of global contracts they hold, they support and back a number of other agencies and companies financially. So whilst they don't hold the contract, they still hold control.
    I listened to the audio download suggested in yesterdays conversations, and it's quite frightening when you realise just how extensive these global corporate vampires are. Their language is also worrying.
    "Extending our immigration markets"?
    To think of immigration and displaced people as markets I find quite horrific.
    This government have lost sight of some very fundamental factors of human and social responsibility, and their idelogical pursuit of wealth is not just destructive, but demonic too.
    But a word of warning prime minister! Don't worry about UKIP, future general elections are likely to be fought out between Serco and G4S. What a coalition they would make eh?
    If the future is indeed Orange, then it will only be the glow from the embers of a world left raped and pillaged by neoliberal ideology.

    1. Do you know it's not beyond the bounds of possibility is it that large corporations become ungovernable, form alliances and seek to protect their interests with force if necessary......We're on our way to hell in a handcart.



  2. Buckingham Palace are today reported to be opperating zero hour contracts. They deny this however by saying that whilst they do not guarentee any work, they do provide staff with free uniforms and lunch!
    Let them eat cake?

    1. Oh boy things are getting bad! Did you know Cleveland Fire and Rescue are recruiting zero hour contract volunteers to drive fire engines and put fires out if there's another FBU strike FFS! This is pure 1926 surely?

  3. hammer in the north (courtesy of JP)31 July 2013 at 15:18

    With reference to Tyrell Corporation, replicants were created with a built in fail safe of a 5 year lifespan. Same applies to this Govt. unless the revolution starts earlier.

    1. Very good point there hammer in the north! Obviously another Bladerunner fan too.

  4. With reference to TR, they"re proposing 10 year contracts. Thats a 5 year longer fail safe tthen the Tyrell corp!
    I don't really have an issue with replicants. It's the reptiles in government that I can't stand.

  5. "All those [Probation] moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain"

    One can only admire those martinets/senior managers at LPT, and no doubt up and down the country, who remain adept at kissing up and kicking down.

  6. netnipper

    'Kissing up and kicking down' - not heard of that before - clearly I need to get out more - very good!



  7. Via twitter I have been exposed to yet more self claimed 'experts who seem to know what is best for Probation, - there seem any number of organisations trying to make money out of folk who are interested in finding out about getting involved with the TR nonsense.

    They are so expert they say " If you know someone currently serving a probation order or a probation officer who might be interested in contributing to our research through their insights and experience of the Probation Service, please get in touch"

    I guess that means they want folk outside England and Wales to answer because unless I am mistaken - there are no probation orders left now, just Officers and organisations with probation in their title!

    I have emailed them thus:-

    "SUBJECT: Your ignorance is revealed - despite you describing your selves as 'experts'!


    Unless I am very wrong, there is nobody serving a probation order in England and Wales as you imply here. "If you know someone currently serving a probation order"

    Maybe, you are seeking folk from further afield. That quote alone would prevent me from attending any of your events - notwithstanding I have been retired for ten years - however I despair at the destruction of the Probation service(s) as I knew them.

    I have no doubt that if the Transforming Rehabilitation plans come to fruition, the ultimate total financial cost will be much more than the one third cut in the budget The Lord Chancellor is introducing, additional to a lessening of public safety from crimes committed by those who are not well supervised or receive unnecessary prison recalls.

    Regards "

  8. Here is another lot seemingly 'on the make' just from the bidding process!

    1. These posts remind us just how many snouts there are in the outsourcing trough. It's not just the big players who will hoover up the contracts, and the little organisations that can probably do a decent job on a small scale but will take on too much risk in trying to expand and end up absorbed by the 'primes' - but all these consultants who flit around hawking their 'expertise' to the gullible and panicky. And none of this industry needs to exist at all - it's just creating its own demand and feeding itself! And the Tax Payer's bleedin' Alliance has the gall to go on about public sector "non-jobs".

      I see the Innovation Unit's "partner" is A4E - no prizes for guessing where the fruit of their research will go then.

  9. What offends me is the handful of 'the nakedly ambitious' ex-Probation colleagues who have, over the last couple of years, thrown their hats in the ring at the MoJ, or with the outsourcing crews to make their fortunes. Interesting to see who finds the golden eggs and who gets the egg on their faces.

  10. Don't worry too much about ex probation colleagues throwing their hats into the ring as they will be senior managers with little idea of what goes on at the coal face-how many senior managers were successful when they were with the service? Very few.....on other matters word about the soon to be tested new risk assessment tool to be tried at court which seems to be a static risk assessment tick box with elements of OGRS -seems to be being rushed to the front line with little assessment of its applicability.......

  11. Every thing will have to be tick box. The people who will be carrying out assessments will not be trained to do anything else. Indeed, many will not have the abillity to do it any other way, and I say that with no disrespect to the people who may find themselves employed to do this work.
    I recall the privatisation of prisons and local recruitment. Reports on clients were suddenly being done by staff who until a month or so previously worked on the checkout at Tesco's.
    I remember reports almost being generic. It wasn't the authers fault, it was the lack of training, and probably more signifigant was, it was just a job with no real attachment to it, and 39 hours of it to get through every week before you got a night or two out on the lash.
    And Tim is so right about all those consultants. But theres money to be had, and everyones busy working out how to get some of it. I know from the work programme just how inbread and cut throat it becomes. But its all dead money. Nothings being manufactured by the hundereds of little companies feeding from the though. It's just tax payers money and what really is it achieving ecconomically?
    Here's my advice to everyone. We all come into this world the same. All with nothing. The only way to make a profit is to go out owing a few bob!